Environmental and energy balances of wood products and substitutes

Introduction

Wood, a renewable and recyclable raw material, is used worldwide for a broad range of end products as well as for renewable energy generation. In recent decades, wood has been facing substitution pressure from other materials such as synthetics, concrete, steel, ceramics and glass. This pressure could be reduced if the sustainability of forests and thus roundwood production were guaranteed, and if consumer awareness of the ecological benefits of wood-based products were enhanced.

Among the different environmental methods developed in the past two decades, the life cycle assessment (LCA) is one of the most comprehensive tools for measuring the environmental impact of products during their entire life cycle from cradle to grave. Furthermore, LCA is applied for the conduction of ecologically-based studies and provides data for comparison between different materials and products. It can also enhance consumer awareness on the environmental advantages of wood products.

In this comparative study specific end uses for wood products in which wood faces substitution pressure or can substitute non-renewable raw materials were identified. A literature review on environmental and energy balances related to the selected end uses was conducted and the main reasons for substitution were analysed. Comparative studies for selected products based on the literature review were prepared and finally, recommendations were made on additional areas to be studied and research topics were formulated.

The study shall provide comprehensive information on the environmental aspects of products made of wood as renewable and CO2-neutral material and from some non-renewable raw materials. The obtained results shall provide scientifically-based information for policy-makers, producers, consumers and other interested groups. Based on the data provided, the target groups can understand the reasons for selection and/or substitution of wood for specified end uses on the basis of environmental criteria.

The studies undertaken are on wood-based products and products made of other building materials. The following product groups were analysed focusing on the ecological aspect:

  • single-family houses;
  • simple large buildings;
  • window frames; and
  • flooring materials.

The analysis demonstrates the ecological advantages of wood as building material and its benefits to the environment, including the thermal utilization at the end of the product life cycle. Finally, the main reasons for wood substitution are analysed and measures to reduce substitution are recommended. Proposals for further research topics are also presented.

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